Flanfire (Duggan Flanakin) is bringing LIFE to Austin music -- and telling the world how sweet it is!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ambassadors of a Higher Love!

3 bands.
3 new CDs.
A trinity.
So let's see.
We have here Lily (with Will Rhodes) and Will (with David Morgan) Courtney (children of the promise -- and of Ragan Courtney and Cynthia Clawson) and their wonderful band Brothers and Sisters -- at their CD release at Club DeVille.
Gotta say it was HOT -- gotta thank Ripe for filling in at the last minute, and Frank Smith for allowing Steve Malone and Aaron Sinclair [see photo] to play a generous acoustic set. The WHOLE band plays next on July 31st at the Mohawk (when I am sadly out of town?!%*&).
Maybe the HIGHLIGHT of the evening was the Brothers and Sisters grand finale (after they had played their entire new album, "Fortunately," straight through) -- an awesome version of America's "Sister Golden Hair" (who else but Lily Katherine fits THAT description?), a song that gave Ricky Ray Jackson ample room to show his stuff on the pedal steel. Ray also plays a guttral Fender (see photo) in this band, and as you can see, dresses for the occasion very well!
Will and Lily have been spoonfed real love from their very first breaths -- as children of the LOVE revolution that began with Sixties hippiedom and morphed into the Jesus Movement by the Seventies. Somewhere along the way (well, AFTER Will got tired of the LA scene) the siblings began singing together. The band itself has evolved -- the current (trimmed down) edition has David Morgan on bass, Greg McArthur on drums, and Daniel Wilcox on guitar and guitar and guitar (and more guitar, which is to say at Club DeVille he must have brought out eight of his vintage collection for the 16-song set). Honorary Brother Kullen Fuchs (who adds to the record along with Steve Bernal and Amy Mitchell) brought his Wurlitzer piano for the evening -- and one of his trumpets. And so, before a PACKED HOUSE on the outdoor stage (with the red dirt backdrop), Will and Lily led their friends on a journey to a simpler, purer time when life was good and you could hitchhike without fear or even sleep in Montrose Park.
Brothers and Sisters -- Fortunately
I flat out LOVE THIS BAND! Memories of Poco, the Beach Boys, Neil Young (just listen to Will's falsetto!), Crosby Stills and Nash too, and for that matter Chuck Girard and Love Song. Will in his songs is surely a spiritual (if not literal) child of the Sixties and early Seventies. Lots of heartbreak here, but lots of adventure too. Most of the songs here were not new to me (thanks to a recent Continental Club show and a couple others too) -- but there is something about an outdoor stage on a hot summer night that transforms this music into timestopping joy. And by the way, they DO have another CD release at Waterloo Records on July 16th (5 pm of course).
From the opening licks of "Mason City" to the fulminating crescendos of the title cut, this is a great ride. "Mason City" is like a Poco song except with the brother-sister harmonies that beg for airplay. "You're Gone" is a little edgier (more like CSNY), with some nasty guitar licks. Then there's "I Don't Rely," and the whole crowd is singing the chorus -- a little slower (think Jayhawks here?). This sets up the power ballad "Make a Man's Body Hurt," which makes me think a little of "Helpless" but has this amazing line, "back when being poor was kinda fun" that leads into "I'd rather die in a pauper's grave than lose this love that makes a man's body hurt."
"Can't Hold Me Back" opens with that early Jefferson Airplane dark sound (think "Blues from an Airplane") and has this line, "only time will tell if I'll accept your situation when you circumvent your hell." "The Wind" (which Will says is not likely to be heard live again?) is his purest Neil Young voice (as if singing a Dave Crosby song). "The Air Is Getting Thicker" opens with a pure Byrds 12-string sound but there's this tremolo guitar riff in the song that just takes off. "The Trees Are Bare" is a hilarious song about how hot it is in Texas -- and a duet in which Lily is making fun of Will's complaining. And, yeah, the song rocks! "The dead of winter but it's 85 outside ... " and the music is just as steamy as a hot summer day.
Will then takes us out to "California" in the fall -- riding the 101 up to the 5 and heading north to San Francisco, with the Ventures on the radio ... do I feel "McArthur Park"? This reminds me of Chuck Girard ... and the Mamas and Papas. [More simply put, I am 25 again!] Moving on, "That's How It Goes" is another of those numbers you just have to sing along to ... the way we used to sing to the Beach Boys, and yet there is this tough lyric hidden in the middle and a great guitar solo at the end. "Lonely Man" is a lament over winning fights but losing the one true love.
"Wash Away" is another of my very favorites .. the opening is classic! "Sunshine is here to stay," and a great muted guitar solo ... and then everything slows down ... low tide. We then get a short musical interlude before the very heavy "Fortunately," which ends with a spaceship type sound that drifts out into the stratosphere.
And while out there, I will relate a little story about the never to be named musician whose car was (a) not towed (as he first thought after not finding it), (b) stolen (as he thought after learing it had not been towed), but really moved by himself while hurrying around prior to a show. Reminds ME of the time I spent an hour in the Austin-Bergstrom long term parking lots looking for a car in Lot C that I had really left in Lot B -- at 1 am mind you. But we all get by with a little help from our friends (and friendly neighborhood airport security folks).
Goldcure -- Portuguese Prince
Now Goldcure -- the first of two Austin CD release parties at the Saxon midnight on July 19th for their "Portuguese Prince" CD produced with great love by Stephen Doster (who has been playing with the band at various gigs for the past few months). Bassist John Allison (shown here with Doster at the Saxon a few months ago) also plays guitar with T-Bird and the Breaks and one day may have to clone himself -- but his aggressive take-charge effort has helped this band gel. That is straight from founding members Craig Haskell (the blond) and Adam Buhrman (the brunet front man still thin from a recent 40-day fast) -- and drummer Gavin Inverso, the joyful one from the City of Brotherly Love (where else?). This band of brothers went back to south Florida last month to preview the record for the homefolks (Adam's, that is!) -- now it's our turn!
I have watched this band grow over the past 18 months or so since their arrival in town -- both as musicians and as people with a purpose. Craig allowed Adam's brother Steve to expose his heart in the pages of "Finding God at Momo's Music Club," a paper Steve submitted toward his Master's of Divinity from Oxford University. But that's the story of Austin music -- so many of our community lay their souls bare as they seek to communicate truth as they have learned it to anyone who really listens to what they are singing about. Goes back to Townes and Lucinda and so many others here -- how else can we all survive without exposing our wounds to the light?
The record also features Brad Hauser on saxophone, Brian Standefer on cello, Stewart Cochran on keyboards, Tom Hale on french horn, and Doster of course on guitar and vocals. With Doster's help, the band reworked a few songs from their earlier EP (made in Florida) and wrote a bunch of new songs too. Notable among the "oldies" are "It's Not Over Yet" and ""Never Alone" -- talk about an anthem in two parts! This is music that sets you back on your ears and makes you FEEL (not just think) about who you are in this world. You just wonder when they will do this mini-set with a full orchestra. "Lucky To See" is the other song you may have heard.
The album opens with "Too Long," which asks up front to, "Be patient dear" -- "I've been filled up with sin, I let it in, nice and slowly" -- and we shall soon see the deafening impact on the soul of losing one's faith and hope even when we have been "given everything I needed." The driving guitars provide a first premonition that life may be emerging out of a Rip Van Winkle-like slumber - but not just totally yet. "Portuguese Prince" may be a reference to Henry the Navigator, who ensured that captured slaves converted to Christianity -- but the backstory might also be the enslavement of a religion grounded in legalism rather than relationship, the kind that kills the spirit of a man. "It's Not Over Yet" is thus a tale about a man caught up in the ordinary that seems lifeless -- and "Never Alone" is the promise of a way out of the dark for a man who has realized that "something's left me now and I know it's gone."
Maybe my favorite song of all is "Rubber Inside" -- the rhythm alone is worth the entire record. "I can feel my heart it's all rubber inside ... like a fashion show ... like a blowup doll .. so empty now." What happens when your heart shuts down after a tragedy? How do you regain the ability to reach out and love when you are so horribly hurt? And yet ... if you can feel your heart, then you know you have to find a way.
"Stanley" reminds me of two characters played by John Turturro, Sid Lidz in the 1995 movie "Unstrung Heroes" (one of my very favorites, based on a true story) and Monk's brother -- a man whose loneliness is based on fears Then there's "Tired of Saying Hello" -- the end of a relationship, or of a life lived mired in the muddle of the everyday? "Make It Stop" continues the theme of not being satisfied with halfway living -- "the water's so cold but it beats feeling nothing at all." How does it feel when "I can't make my skin my own"?
The final cut, "Beautiful Disaster," shows the beginning of real hope -- "I drop my head to pray all day what I'm supposed to say, Get back up and go, and I'll be on my way ..." But how DO we get back to where we used to be? Get high? Stay up late? How do we find our way back to life? What a mess we can make of our own lives -- but if we just sober up, let go of our pain, and "wait a while" the future may be brighter than we can even know, even if our lives are wrecked. You can hear the hope more in the music than even in the words.... the groanings of old tired bones as they begin to sense a new energy in the joints and tendons. How does it work? Maybe we will learn more from Goldcure's NEXT record?

Infinite Partials - End of Begin
Infinite Partials, the brainchild of poet Grant Hudson and his singer-actress wife Amy Downing, is a folk-rock band built around Hudson's acoustic guitar and a percussionist (currently Jesse Jones) and enhanced with the THREE Andrews -- Noble on viola and sometimes mandolin, Strietelmeier on violin, and Davis on cello. The new record was aided greatly by the genius of Stephen Orsak (who produced Suzanna Choffel's last record) and also features Chris Sebastian on congas, Lindsey Verrill on bass viol and fretless bass, Megan Metheny on harp, and Orsak in various ways.
The band is on hiatus through the summer (too many players are traveling), but look for a bigtime CD release in September -- yes, there WAS an event of sorts on May 31st, purists! The band takes its name from Pythagoras:"The universe itself is one great string,vibrating simultaneously as a whole and as an infinite series of partials." The spiritual quest here is outright and open -- indeed, some of the songs were recorded at Austin's First Baptist Church.
Flanfire has long been a passionate fan of Hudson's explorations into deep waters. "Watch Yer Back" tells of the conflict between a father invested in the system and a son who seems oblivious to the need for carefulness -- remember, these songs are filled with strings solos and LOTS of words! A quick look at the cover art makes the point even better -- an entire city supported by the roots of a chopped down tree.

"Trying to Transcend" emerges out of a forest in the night with a question, how to make amends with a past I cannot defend? This is a beautiful song .. I'm looking over the edge, all my choices come to a hedge...." "Texas Song" speaks of the frustration of responsibility -- "I will block out my left brain, I will stand out in the rain ... I will call on all my pain .. but I cannot let that go on, there's a chance that I am wrong ...." and so it is easier just to "drift along, sing that same old Texas song."
"Almost Gone" opens with an instrumental quiet reflection that morphs into a story of two brothers, one of whom has run away, the other who wants to welcome the wanderer back with open arms. "We are there to help you though you act like you're alone .. You push us away.." How do we help those with mental (or spiritual?) illness to come out of the shadows? "End of Begin" is bass and cello driven but with a haunting fiddle solo -- speaks of a "dead city" and of "every day the end gets closer ... but your heartbeat brings me courage and makes a dream of reality," as our protagonist realizes there is no beginning and no end, "I am all I have to be." Musically, I feel like I am out on an open prairie in a schooner traveling west.
"Fear of Death" should of course be a dirge -- and it indeed begins with a long moan -- and then high tension ... as "lost in myself" our writer is "convinced I am alone on a spiritual plane ..." until "when I held you in my arms, the fear of death/love releases my memories of now..." And thus, "our only choice is to love each other .. and see all the ways as one in the same..." Which leads to "Eternity," with the mandolin pushing the music along and then the fiddle ... and finally the lyric ... "the end is laid before me and I turn around and face myself." And the promise -- that "we will fall asleep .... and wake into eternity." So why worry? This is just GORGEOUS!
"Scout" is a waltz, the backdrop for the lament of one who is "too fast to second and too slow to third, got nothing to say and I never was heard, got nothing coming to me and I'm too tired to give, My life is a joke, I've no reason to live." Here the lovely voice of Amy Downing is heard in a solo -- as she sings about "the purr of an engine that never goes cold." Does he realize?
"What They Want" opens with an eerie sequence that leads to the dark theme here -- "I pull myself in all directions" to give them what they want, but "I'm lost in the end, I run away." "Paranoid creations of the thoughts inside their heads bring strength to my resistance of their useless fulfillment, so I lay my body down and let them ravage me..." And so the question, If I die for you, "Will you resurrect me to let me represent you in the sky?" Is this about Jesus or just an average Joe caught up in the web of a loveless world? The answer is clear -- if we pledge allegiance to political sorcery, then we have made ourselves enemies of a kingdom of love. Grant here seems to be urging us to eschew temporal quick fix solutions to world problems and focus instead on changing hearts, beginning with our own.
The next song is a plea to the Lord to "Hang onto My Soul" -- this is almost old-style spiritual folk music, but with the strings, everything is new. In live sets, songs like these get the crowd going, and sometimes the shows can move into pure joy as everybody starts singing. And maybe even dancing. The finale is "World Soul," which opens here with a harpist ... and is the band's plea to "let me live free of the fear of my end ... let me paint the present with all the colors of the light... and let me begin to let your voice in and be." There is a message here -- that people who are truly free cannot be held captive by those who seek their own power and by inference that love is the strongest bond and the surest way to bring down tyrants.
What a record!
All three of these albums are emotionally draining but equally uplifting and strength building. And, for that matter, musically satisfying and challenging. And folks, there's a lot more here in Austin that makes this town more than just the LIVE music capital of the world -- we may also be the LIFE music capital of the world.
Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

T-Bird and the Breaks (Dancers Welcome!)
On the brink of a breakout show at the Scoot Inn (opening for legends Barbara Lynn and Bobby "Blue" Bland"), T-Bird and the Breaks rocked the house at Threadgill's on July 11th -- the band has another show at Momo's on July 18th with the Lost Pines and the Belleville Outfit -- what a lineup!. You know the band is good when the dancers cut across generational lines (and yes I was among them!) -- and when they dance ALL NIGHT LONG!
And why not? Ever since vocalist/songwriter Tim (T-Bird) Crane and guitarist Sam Patlove left their home in western Massachusetts for the golden shores of Lake Travis, the boys have been picking one four-leaf clover after another. Start with the hot backup vocalists (Stephanie Hunt and Jazz Mills), add in a blazing horn section (trombonist Matt Price, saxman Houston Rawls, and trumpeter >>), throw in Patlove and the amazing John Allison (also with Goldcure!) on guitars, and wrap the whole enchilada around the rhythm section of Marc Lionetti on drums (also with the Lost Pines) and Cody Furr on bass (who actually co-founded the Lost Pines) and you have 10-digit excitement all over the stage.

Much Love (also featuring Rawls and Price with trumpeter Scott Standing) really warmed up the crowd with a joyful opening set -- my first time to hear Matt Creaton and this wonderful band (more on them another time). But I had not see T-Bird in months -- and was psyched for the band that keeps everybody on the dance floor! First thing I noticed was the rhythm section -- the thump of the bass drum set the stage for everything else! The boys (and women!) paid tribute -- a little Funky Broadway, a new Al Green cover, and some Eddie Floyd -- but the scary thing is the songs you think HAVE to be classics are really their own -- Blackberry Brandy (destined to BE a classic!), Sunday on My Own, Plenty of Soul, and Tobacco Road, plus John Allison's Takin' All the Blame. This is a million times better than "Sweatin' to the Oldies" for weight and strength control -- and a whole lot more fun, too! [Photos: T-Bird; Bird and her fellow dancers; the Breaks' horn section.]

Of course, Flanfire has seen a LOT more music since his last post -- and yes there are reviews of the new Goldcure and Infinite Partials CD's (and more to come) on the way. There was, for example, the underattended Exit Festival (July 5th) which shut down BEFORE Skyblue 72 (Houston's power trio headed by singer-drummer Jessica Zweback, who were kind enough to lend me their blazing recent CD, "Feel My Way Home," that made me a lifelong fan) was scheduled to play (other bands, too, were bumped). Even so, I got to take in smokin' sets from Blues Mafia (with James Bullard and Aaron Lemke filling in for vacationing guitarist Max Frost and drummer Chris Copeland so well you hardly noticed they were gone), Patrice Pike (in the "treehouse"), Dustin Welch, Suzanna Choffel, and White Ghost Shivers. That very evening I dined at Botticelli's to the music of Joanna Barbera and her band and ended up at the Saxon for Wendy Colonna and HER band (with Chad Pope reaching new heights on guitar). [Photo: Johnny V with former Rock Camp students Kai Roach and Patrick Mertens of Blues Mafia.]
And speaking of Miss Colonna, I also caught part of her show at Central Market (photo), which on July 4th hosted a great show with Denmark's Paul Krebs, world traveler Troy Campbell, the feisty Dickie Lee Ervin, and Jenifer Jackson (with drummer extraordinaire Billy Doughty and his own fine voice). On one Wednesday I endured the bad sound at the Continental Club for Nathan Singleton but still had a blast and then trekked to Antone's for Ilsa's Birthday Party for a set by three-fifths of Blues Mafia (Sasha was stunning in her black dress -- shown here with pal Gracia Logue-Sargent who is excited about HER new music project).
Another great memory -- Leeann's Barn Dance featuring Jackson and the Iron City Soul Shakers and Nathan Hamilton and the one-time-only (please, MORE!) reunion of the amazing Sharecroppers -- with David Sawtelle, Mark Utter, Bill Palmer, and Felicia Ford -- with Kim Deschamps sitting in. The joyful crowd demanded a Jackson encore -- so Leeann herself stepped up for "Brown Eyes." Jackson is maybe the ONLY live music performer still at Ego's (Thursdays from 7 to 9).

So then there was the night I was at Momo's and ran into original Jug Band bassist Will Dupuy -- and HE said there has been some idle talk about creating "Weary Jug" -- so I thought I would show photos of former Weary Boy Mario Matteoli (who has a new CD out!) -- here backing Cayce Rose and the Mind Games (featuring her brother Derek Hatley and HIS daughter Bianca plus Dave Warren) at Roadhouse Rags (a venue I will begin to attend with frequency now that I have found it) -- and current South Austin Jug Band members Matt Mefford and Dennis Ludiker along with Noah (Nug) Jeffries and (not shown) Jugger Brian Beken in their Sunday at Momo's band Milk Drive. Someday I will write extensively about the Idaho (and Washington State) geniuses who have invited Mufft into their secret society -- but for now suffice it to say that they are all so good that Ludiker, who is the 2008 Texas State Fiddle Champion, plays mostly mandolin in this band, while Jeffries, who once made a good living teaching mandolin and fiddle, here shows off his emerging guitar skills. Now if they would only do a few songs you can play on the radio without bleeping!
Gotta toss in a few kudos to recent Austin visitor Braden Land (who hails from Tupelo and will be back soon) -- blew us away at Momo's happy hour but needs a full house! But if you REALLY want an late afternoon treat, get thee to Momo's for the Randy Weeks show (now THERE's a songwriter -- reminds me of Livingston Taylor). I got to see Randy last with Will Sexton and Rick Poss -- and once again I must remind my friends that there IS music at 5:15 pm most days at Momo's that is far better than what you are listening to at some dive bar -- and when it is not too hot, there is that rooftop patio.

Flanfire -- Bringing LIFE to Austin music.

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